June 19, 2017 5:50 pm
You’ve decided that it’s time for townhome living. Now what?
Well first, congratulations. It’s a big decision. It might be that your kids have left and your home feels much too big and empty. This could be your first home-buying experience and townhome living seems to fit well with your busy schedule and lifestyle. Or, it might mean that you have finally decided that enough is enough, and you want to downsize and simplify your life. Less is more, right? Welcome to your next adventure: Townhome Living.
I’ve had 3 occasions that led to a townhome purchase, all for different reasons. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:
1. Visualize your ideal space.
Consider the geographic location that would suit you best. Would you like to be closer to work, church, shopping, the theatre district, nature preserve, or other areas of interest? Would you like to improve your commute to work? Or maybe you have retired and want to get away from it all. Do you prefer living in the heart of the city or in a suburban setting? Perhaps you have friends or family you’d like to have closer.
When visualizing, some people will picture friends and family; others will picture water or green space. Some may prefer the hustle and bustle of downtown living; while others prefer a quiet, slower-paced setting. Once you have it in your mind, write down the qualities that are important to you.
2. Narrow down your potential new neighborhoods.
Now that you better understand your priorities and what makes you happy, you’re ready to think about the neighborhoods that fit those criteria. If you are working, you’ll want to decide how many miles or minutes you are willing to drive to get to work. Consider traffic patterns and how stressful the drive might be. Are there opportunities to carpool, take a bus or ride your bike?
When contemplating a townhome purchase years ago, I got up early on a weekday and drove to the new location. From there, I drove in to work to see what the drive might be like. After experiencing the agony, I quickly eliminated that area from my list of possibilities. Sometimes it takes a real test drive to know the truth.
I also decided quite some years ago that, for me, it was inadvisable to live anywhere west of work. If you choose north, south or east, you won’t have to drive into the sun both ways and run into those inevitable delays. Decide on the acceptable distance from work (or other important landmarks) and draw a circle around it as your guide for areas you are willing to consider. Do the test drive if you want to be sure.
3. Consider which townhome features are most important to you.
Before engaging a realtor, you need to do some soul-searching and understand your own priorities for a new style of living. If you have clarity about what’s important to you and the features you need, your realtor will have a better chance of finding it for you without wasting a lot of time for either of you. Here are some factors to consider:
- Multi-level, single-level or detached.
- Large complex or smaller community.
- Specific amenities like pool, party room, tennis or golf course, parks, bike trail access, etc.
- Single- or double-car garage.
- Garden space, patio space and privacy.
- Location and setting, urban or suburban.
- Quantity and style of trees, shrubs, green space or water features.
- Proximity to highways, shopping, events, public transportation, social hubs, etc.
Each personality is different. Some people will thrive in a busy area with a lot going on. Others will do best in a quieter, natural setting. If you have health issues or share housing with someone who won’t do well with stairs, a single-level townhome will be your better choice. Community amenities may or may not be on your list of “must-haves,” but if so, expect to pay higher association dues.
If you want the advantages of a detached townhome, options might be available in your area with more square footage, privacy and a higher price tag. These structures are similar to a single-family home, usually with a smaller yard and an association to take care of exterior maintenance, lawns and snow.
Once you have your list of features that are non-negotiable and those that “would be nice,” you’re ready to talk with your realtor to find the perfect space.
4. Find a realtor who will understand you and your preferred communities.
You’ll want someone who has considerable knowledge of the area and who has a superb track record for providing expert guidance to home buyers, especially if this is your first experience or if it’s been a while since you purchased a home. If you don’t already know a good realtor for townhomes in your chosen area, ask for recommendations from trusted friends and colleagues. You can also read reviews on the agent’s website, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc.
Share your list of desired neighborhoods and features with 3–4 realtors. Ask questions about their experience, style of communication and availability over the next few months. Take the time necessary to select a reputable agent, and choose the realtor who gives you confidence in the process. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person to help you with this very important, life-changing decision.
5. If you need a loan to buy the property, find out what’s available to you.
It’s always a good idea to find out how much you qualify for and get approved before looking at properties and making an offer. It will save time and stress, and could give you the edge over another buyer who is not yet pre-approved. Your realtor and people in your network can recommend a good mortgage broker. An experienced broker will have a wealth of knowledge and will help you understand what makes financial sense for you and what type of loan is best for you.
6. Start looking and comparing.
Evaluate each townhome against your list of must-have features. If your realtor is experienced, she should be able to help you determine whether the property has any features that would be difficult to live with or difficult to sell later. A good realtor can often spot structural issues or previous problems with water damage or pest issues. You’ll also be able to gage the life expectancy of major appliances, windows, patio doors, etc.
In many associations, even though they manage and maintain the exterior of the building, the homeowner is responsible for maintenance and upgrades to windows, entry doors, patio doors and garage doors. This should be taken into account. Ask to see the Association “CC&Rs” (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) documents that spell out homeowner responsibilities and obligations. These are the rules you’ll live by. Be sure to look at them carefully and ask your realtor for guidance.
When you are ready to make an offer, you can hire a qualified home inspector to do a thorough inspection and give you a detailed report on the home’s condition. This will minimize any major surprises once you take ownership. You can also ask about a home warranty. Some sellers will offer a home warranty or you can purchase one yourself. This might help reduce the worry about any major expenses within the first year.
7. Work with your realtor to compare associations and financial factors.
Buying a townhome is different than purchasing a single-family home where you have a great deal of control over managing the property. As part of a managed community, there will be a list of rules (CC&Rs) that dictate what must remain uniform and what you can do with the home’s exterior appearance and landscaping. Here are some items to consider carefully.
- Price, value and potential resale value.
- Monthly association dues. This adds to the cost of ownership; and remember, the dues will likely increase over time.
- Financial stability. Ask to see the financials and determine whether you feel the money has been managed wisely. Is there enough money in the reserves (savings account) to handle major projects or would there be homeowner assessments? Are there homes in foreclosure?
- Possible assessments. Will shingles or siding need replacement soon? Is there landscaping or tree issues that will require a large investment, such as diseased trees that will need to be removed and replaced? Are there possible curb and gutter improvements? Are they planning to add a pool or other pricey feature?
Do the math. Estimate the cost of any project that seems likely in the next few years and divide it by the number of units in the association. That would be your possible financial obligation to complete the project if they have insufficient reserves.
8. Make an offer with the guidance of your realtor.
Your realtor will help you decide on a reasonable offer, how to handle counter-offers and how to manage the disappointment of losing the purchase or the excitement of having your offer accepted. If your offer was not accepted, you can discuss it and make necessary adjustments to your next offer. When your offer has been accepted, your realtor will lead you through the steps necessary to complete the sale. Be prepared to sign your name more times than you thought would be necessary!
Townhome living can be satisfying indeed. Yes, you might give up a little privacy and space, but you gain the freedom you’ve been craving and won’t have to worry about yard work or shoveling snow. You’ll also have close neighbors who will keep an eye on your home when you are away and give you a friendly wave as you drive by.
I hope this article provides the confidence you need to make a carefully planned purchase and smooth transition to townhome living. Your realtor will be your advocate and help you fully understand the process. If you have learned something and gained motivation to get started, please share this article with a friend. Thank you!